Modifying an entire website to accommodate specific disabilities might seem overwhelming. I’ve heard the argument that there aren’t enough people who need the accommodation to make the changes worthwhile. While that’s just not true (all 53 million people with disabilities in the US alone probably beg to differ[1]), there’s another type of disability you likely aren’t considering: situational disability.

You know, those annoying times when a room is suddenly too loud for you to hear a phone call, or when you have your eyes dilated at the doctor and you’re cannot see for a few hours. While these issues might not be long-term, they still make digital accommodations necessary. Sometimes it can help to imagine yourself in these situations to help understand why this is important. Put yourself into the following scenarios to learn more about why accessibility technology doesn’t just benefit users who are permanently disabled.

Think it’s a rare thing? Think again. Jessica Alba (a famous American actress) had an incident that left her visually impaired for an entire week – all because of an allergic reaction to some shampoo! Here’s a short clip where she talks about the situation:

So see, this stuff can happen to anyone. Here are a few more ways you can find yourself in need of digital assistance.

Scenario 1: You go on an ice skating adventure and accidentally break your arm

Ice skating is hard. Even the pros fall, and unfortunately, this can lead to broken limbs and unsightly casts. If your entire arm is in a cast, you likely won’t be able to use your fingers the way that you used to until everything heals.

If you want to use your computer, you’ll quickly learn that the computer mouse and trackpad both require fine motor skills that you no longer possess. While it might be tempting to say you would use your other hand, that’s a lot harder than you think.

Give it a shot right now, try and open a new tab and open up your email using your other hand. It’s going to get annoying – fast. Keyboard navigation can help you navigate through webpages without using the standard methods you’re used to like a mouse. However, if a website isn’t optimized to support keyboard navigation then it’s going to be a long waiting period while you heal.

Helpful Modification: Keyboard Navigation

Scenario 2: You’re in a crowded restaurant and you miss an important phone call because you couldn’t hear it ring

We’ve all been there. You might be waiting to hear back about a job, hoping to hear back from a friend, or just about anything that makes you stare unblinking wanting your phone to ring. If you’re in a crowded place and you can’t have a staring contest with your phone, you might miss the call.

This situational auditory impairment makes things more difficult than normal. This is why accommodations like the vibrate setting on your phone exist. Many phones also include an LED flash alert option in their accessibilities menu. Having your phone flash or vibrate can keep you from missing alerts, even if it’s just a temporary necessity.

Helpful Modifications: Mobile Device Vibration and LED Flashing Alerts

Scenario 3: You get an ear infection and can’t hear well out of either ear for a week

Ear infections aren’t just for kids. While your ears are healing, your hearing might suffer. This temporary deafness can cause a lot of unexpected complications that stem far beyond not being able to listen to music through earphones.

Imagine your boss sends you a TED Talk and asks you to watch it before your 2:00PM meeting. You panic, thinking about how whiney you’ll sound saying your ear infection made it impossible to hear the video properly. Then, by some miracle you notice the little “Subtitle” button on the bottom of each video, and you know you’re saved.

Helpful Modification: Closed Captioning

Scenario 4: Your doctor dilates your eyes during a routine exam and you’re extremely light sensitive

When you leave the eye doctor’s office rocking those giant plastic glasses they give you, suddenly every bit of light that creeps past them hurts. You squint, you groan, and you know that for the rest of the day you’ll be living like a vampire until your eyes go back to normal. But still, the temptation to check your phone overcomes you, and now you’re staring at the bright screen trying to adjust.

Luckily, there’s a setting for that. Phones and websites (especially if they have the UserWay widget installed) now come with accessibility menus where you can adjust the color contrast to warmer or colder, and dim the brightness of the screen. These settings are great to grapple with temporary light sensitivity. They’re also helpful if you tend to check your phone in the middle of the night, because they prevent that sudden jolt of light that can make it tough to fall back asleep.

Helpful Modification: Contrast Modifications and Display Brightness Options

Scenario 5: It’s cold out, and you’re shivering too much to remove your gloves to use the touchscreen on your phone.

While this is something you might be able to fix pretty easily by going inside or getting warm, it still counts as a situation where you can’t use technology the way you typically do. Unless you have those capacitive-tipped gloves that are made to register on a smartphone, you’ll find yourself unable to use your mobile phone’s touch keypad.

The technology is still evolving, but this is a good example of why voice command technology is important. If for some reason you can’t use your touchscreen, there needs to be another way for you to interact with the devise. Being able to push a physical button and give the phone verbal commands can help you to overcome this barrier.

Helpful Modification: Verbal Commands

Being temporarily prohibited from using technology the way you typically would can help you to understand why digital accommodations are so necessary. At some point, we all need a little extra help and while the duration of the impairment may vary from person to person, it’s important to have accommodations available when we need them. Accessibility apps like the UserWay widget can help keep the modifications handy for users just in case they need it.


[1] http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0730-us-disability.html